Thursday, March 27, 2014

Worth Reading – March 27, 2014

Eric Grenier offers an interesting thought exercise, what if the NDP broke through in Quebec in 1997 and roughly maintained those numbers. It’s a fascinating scenario and suggests interesting possibilities if the Bloc has in fact ended its tenure as an important player on the national stage.  

News that broke today: Former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s staff is charged in connection with a potential cover-up tied to the gas plant scandal. 

Rob Anders (CPC – Calgary West, AB) is facing a formidable opponent in his nomination battle for the 2015 election. Anders is an odious figure to say the least and may be off the ballot in the next election.

Gracen Johnson writes about her efforts to find a housesmall enough to meet her needs. This is an issue I touched on on Tuesday, a lack of diverse housing choices hurts people with different preferences and budgets.

John McGrath writes about the need (or lack there of) for the Toronto Island airport expansion. I find his piece quite compelling really, but he construes this expansion as setting up a Pearson-style hub, which Billy Bishop will never be.

Warning: This article is for extreme urban policy nerds. From Spacing, Toronto may soon receive a new planning system that will greatly reduce the strain on developers and planning staff. 

An article on why this “No Make-up Selfie” trend needs to come to an end. 

More bizarre nomination stories, Eve Adams (CPC – Mississauga-Brampton South, ON) is looking to change ridings which has caused tension, favouritism and confrontations within the Conservative Party in that area.

Susan Delacourt asks a fantastic  question; if the government wants a mandate for sweeping reforms to critical institutions it should call an election

Before the charges and deeper investigation into Premier Kathleen Wynne’s predecessor, this article suggests her biggest challenge was to create space and contrasts between the Liberals and ONDP

Mentioned earlier this week, Linda Jeffrey (OLP –Brampton-Springdale) has resigned from Cabinet and her seat at Queen’s Park to run for mayor of Brampton. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Steal this Platform: Seven Ideas for a Better Brampton

Brampton’s race for mayor became much more interesting today as MPP Linda Jeffrey (OLP – Brampton-Springdale) resigned from cabinet and the legislature and declared her candidacy. But Brampton’s problems will not be simply solved by replacing the mayor. Much of the Council has been in place for a decade and the mayor is only one vote. Therefore it is necessary for voices expressing a different vision to emerge.

Before I moved to the Northwest Territories I had ambitions to run for city council to offer an alternative vision of what my hometown could be. Unfortunately the opportunity for my current job came up and so I moved west (and a lot north). A recent article by Edward Keenan in The Grid where he outlined a platform for any Toronto candidate gave me the idea to share what I had intended to present to voters in Wards 3 and 4. I apologize for the brief descriptions, but many of these ideas have been discussed previously in this blog.

1.      Grow Smart, Not Fast

In the course of 30 years the city of Brampton has more than tripled in size to over 500,000 people. The rapid construction of suburban neighbourhoods has lagged behind infrastructure upgrades and local services. Growth is not being properly managed and instead it is treated like a gold rush. This construction boom will result in a harsh bust if not managed properly. Proposed zoning needs to be reconsidered for greater mixed-use, multi-purpose neighbourhoods with greater densities. Future developments should use the principles of Smart Growth/New Urbanism in their planning.

2.      Work Where You Live and Small Business Incubator

One of the reasons traffic is so bad in Brampton is that there are fewer jobs than there are workers. Citizens have to commute out of the city resulting in greater traffic congestion, a lower quality of life and less connection to their home. Through a policy known as Economic Gardening city economic development should invest resources in helping small businesses add small numbers of employees and entrepreneurs begin their businesses in the city rather than focusing on big commercial developments.

3.      More Accessible Government

The city should commit to clearer public notices. Items put in newspapers and on websites should not be cryptic and bland. Easy to understand and accessible language with sharp graphics should be used to invite the public to speak with their government. Open up city hall and make the process more transparent and less intimidating. Allow questions to city council to be submitted online.

As is clear, the mayor and council’s spending privileges needs to be examined and more stringently curtailed. The public expects politicians who are responsible. Spending should be made publicly available on the city website. Public meetings should rotate on the schedule to offer citizens a chance to see council in person.

4.      More and Diverse Housing

Brampton is great if you’re looking for a detached home, but if you cannot afford it, or looking for something else the options are limited. The city should legalize and regulate basement apartments to provide an affordable option and allow families to start private businesses that reduce the cost of their homes. A database should be set up to let renters know of legal, regulated apartments where complaints and known issues can be filed.

5.      Reform City Elections

Ask the Ontario government to allow instant run-off ballots to be used in all future city elections, as the Toronto City Council has asked. This encourages more candidates, more positive campaigns and ensures that consensus candidates with mandates from the public win.

6.      Human and Mass Transit

Brampton cannot afford to cut service to Brampton Transit or Züm. Service should continue to expand to meet the needs of the city and offer an effective alternative to the car. The popularity of Züm, along with transit experts, suggests that frequency of service is more important than speed of service. Brampton Transit is a critical part of the city and should reliably deliver high quality service. Improved transit reduces traffic and links people to employment.

Safe, well-maintained bicycle lanes should exist along all major corridors in Brampton offering a healthy form of human-scale transit in the city. In addition neighbourhoods and new developments should work to create walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods from now on.

7.      Hurontario LRT

The Hurontario LRT should be built as Metrolinx has proposed with extensive public consultation. The Main Street-Hurontario corridor is one of the most traffic heavy highways in the province. The LRT will link residential to business, commercial, retail, entertainment and other transportation nodes. This late in the process is not the time to object. As Toronto has time and time again demonstrated indecision wastes precious time and only results in a worse backlog and lower quality of life for citizens. A tremendous business opportunity will exist for development along the LRT.

This is far from a perfect platform, but I think all told this represents a set of ideas that if implemented would make my hometown of Brampton, Ontario an even better place to live. I hope candidates in this fall's election stand up for these ideas and at least a couple of them win. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Worth Reading - March 20, 2014

I begin this week with stories from back home in Brampton, Ontario. This story broke about two weeks ago, but I have only had time to focus on it now. A report by the City of Brampton revealed that $704 million that was allocated was not spent on projects approved by Council. This is a shocking revelation and suggests gross mismanagement of the city over the past ten years.

Update on the above story on how Brampton’s City Council is beginning to piece together the misallocation of funds.  

Following the above story Royce James in the Toronto Star advocated to the people of Brampton that it was time to remove Mayor Fennell in the coming fall municipal election. 

Edward Keenan in The Grid writes about fringe candidates, why the media does not take them seriously and what they can do to change that. 

Speaking of fringe candidates, Sarah Thomson has announced her candidacy for Mayor of Toronto. I actually enjoy Ms. Thomson’s podcast/radio program on Toronto politics, but this article and her actions make her sound like a laughable caricature of fringe candidate.

The federal parties are using unconventional (and icky) ways to track your information

From the Atlantic, highly educated countries have better governments, possibly because their citizens complain more. 

Justin Ling writes on the Liberal nomination issues arising out of Trinity-Spadina, Ontario.

From the Huffington Post, J. J. McCullough writes about a certain brand of bilingual elitism that exists in Canada. I do not wholeheartedly agree with McCullough, but I must admit to feeling stupid, or excluded when at a public event the speaker switches to French.

Jon Lorinc in Spacing lays out the positions of the major candidates in the race for mayor in Toronto on transit. 

Worth Watching

 Rick Mercer on the Fair Elections Act

Elizabeth May: Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Closed Nominations, Closed Democracy

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about democracy issues in Canada. I am clearly not alone in my concerns that Canadian democracy is not exactly cresting at the height of excellence. Increasingly I am convinced that as we look at the tree of Canadian democracy we fret over the shriveled, dying leaves that is our House of Commons and miss the much more serious rot in the trunk that is our political parties, or decay in the roots of activism and riding associations. This overly metaphorical introduction is by way to bring up the topic of nomination contests and how open they should be.

As I write this I understand there may be a development in the story, but the federal Liberal Party is under fire for apparently blocking a potential candidate, Christine Innes, for running in Trinity-Spadina, left vacant by Olivia Chow’s resignation to run for mayor of Toronto. Zach Paikin, long-time Liberal Party activist, withdrew his name as a potential nominee in a new Hamilton-area riding in protest. 

One of the ways political parties control MPs is through the threat that will not sign their nomination papers confirming them as the party’s candidate. This also has the added benefit of keeping party activists in line who one day may aspire to become politicians themselves. If legislation such as the Reform Act were ever to become law the parties seem poised to ensure only loyalists to the leader ever have the opportunity to enter the House of Commons to begin with.  

During every election parties are embarrassed by at least one of their candidates. The Parti Quebecois recently had to confront two different candidates for anti-Islamic and anti-Jewish rhetoric. Thought perhaps not the case in this instance, parties with candidates in long-shot ridings are hung with their baggage and forced to explain on their behalf. This hurts the party, distracts from the campaign and ruins the party’s chances in that riding at least. With this in mind a certain amount of vetting should be required before a potential candidate can stand for nomination.

How thorough should the screening be? In my ideal, fantasy democracy the filtering should be minimal. If the candidate has no obvious skeletons, legal problems, or public embarrassments they should be allowed to stand. Determining a candidate’s worth should be left to the riding association, and they should take the responsibility seriously. I appreciate why parties tighten the controls more than that, but it is the manipulation of the system that bothers me.

Through personal experience, and well-documented news stories, there are examples of the central party, leader, or other bigwigs in a political party parachuting in a candidate. I would not be opposed to the central party/leader declaring a preference for a particular candidate, it’s when institutional barriers are erected to prevent other potential candidates from running that things become problematic.

Parties are confronted with the reality of being judged by every error, and every disagreement is an open rebellion or challenge to leadership. In the current media-political environment dissent must be minimal. But big parties covering a range of views is important to a healthy democracy. As participation in political parties declines it seems like the central party will only become more dominant over the riding association. Choosing candidates is perhaps the most important duties of a riding association, take that away, and what is left? What is their purpose except to be local cheerleaders for a handpicked candidate and unaccountable leader?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Worth Reading - March 13, 2014

Beginning in the North, the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories is debating a move to extend their mandate one year to avoid conflicting with upcoming local and impending federation election in 2015. This would increase the time the legislature sat from four years to five.

Edward Keenan has offered up a platform freely to mayoral hopefuls in the city of Toronto. The idea has me tempted to do the same thing for Brampton.

Speaking of Brampton, in the Guardian there is concerns that the proposed-LRT line will not proceed in Brampton do to the actions of an indecisive city council. 

Samara is running a series on political participation within political parties. Here is part one of Adam Goldenberg’s piece about what one needs to work in politics

Chris Hall of CBC writes about the troubles confronting the so-called Fair Elections Act

Toronto is reviewing is ward boundaries for city council. I cannot explain why but I find this process incredibly interesting.

From Salon, the new film Stalingrad may offer greater insight into the Russian psyche than one may initially suspect. 

Twinned pieces from Samara here (I have a lot of content from them this week, sue me). The first encourages citizens to get involved in political parties. 

The second talks about the problems with political parties and how even activists within parties can feel like outsiders

From the Globe and Mail, hopes that Generation Y/Millennials will swoop in to prop up the housing market is misguided. 

This was a fun video to watch, Dr. Danielle Martin appears before a Senate committee in the United States to explain Canadian healthcare. 

Finally, and shamelessly, I had a piece appear in Samara this week. I wrote about the need to reform riding associations to make them more effective and democratic. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Are Millennials Compatible with our Democracy?

Last night I watched The Agenda’s program on youth participation with our democracy. Below I’ll post the videos of the episode.

Millennials Discuss Democracy

Democratic Observers weigh in 

The host, Steve Paikin was trying to get to the core of why only 38.8% of Millennials bothered to vote in the 2011 federal election. Sadly Mr. Paikin did not come up with many (or any) answers. As I watched my peers I could not help but think that perhaps our attention is on the wrong side of the equation. Much attention has been given over to the system failing young people, but could it be that young people are also failing the system?

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time would know that I’m a democracy nerd and political junkie. It’s something I care about and invest a great deal of time and effort into. This makes me an outlier, which I accept. I don’t expect every citizen to be as engaged as I am as they undoubtedly have passions of their own. I began to wonder whether or not the certain zeitgeist of millennials means that they are inured to politics.

Looking at the twenty-somethings on the panel last night it was clear that they were all articulate, well-educated, and quite savvy. It’s likely that the producers at TVO worked to find an exceptional group, and one that would stand out for the reasons that you’d think they would be leaders in politics today. Beneath their positive qualities ran deep cynicism for politics, politicians and democracy. Even those who espoused concerns and political positions seemed to view participation within our democratic system as a bit of a fool’s errand, or at least as deeply unappealing.

Politics was likened to marketing, yet the objective of being sold to and appealing to constituents to build a mandate should not be interchangeable. Millennials are savvy and understand the tactics of media and marketing firms. When politicians and parties try them they are instantly recognizable and rejected.

I could not help but sense that my peers on the program were fundamentally missing the point. By not participating at all they were dooming themselves to irrelevance. Many in Generation Y prefer to observe the system and critique than get their hands dirty and try to repair it. Jane Hilderman of Samara, in the second clip above, highlighted that man Millennials participated in informal democracy, but ultimately we are governed through the formal process. Petitions and rallies can be easily ignored while candidates, voters and movements cannot.

I’m not sure any of the panel would be satisfied in our system. They seek “authentic” candidates that express their values. I cannot help but wonder if politicians who deviate only slightly from their ideals would be considered a waste of time, or irrelevant. Perfection becomes the enemy of the good and thousands render themselves silent in preference to an alternative that does not exist.

I suppose my question is whether or not Millennials, a generation jaded through media, marketing and entertainment, cannot operate within a system built upon loyalty, trust and imperfect candidates and parties. There may be an economic argument. The delayed adulthood due to debt, poor job market and high housing costs means that Millennials are taking on the responsibilities that drive people to vote later. Still that is no remedy and if Millennials want the system to better reflect their values they will have to start showing up.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Worth Reading – March 6, 2013

Ten articles for you to consider this week; ranging on all sorts of different topics.

Mark Jarvis, political science professor, writes a piece following up on Samara’s report on political parties. Much like I have written elsewhere, Jarvis argues that Canadians need to take ownership.

In Ontario politics, the ONDP is hoping to win overdisenchanted Liberal voters in the next election (possibly this spring). 

The Russian invasion of the Ukraine has kept the world on edge. In this first piece Russian forces take control of the Crimea.

In this second piece, the Russians move to “legally” allow the annexation of the Crimea

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is one of my favourite politicians and he is quite popular in other cities across the country. During a visit he made to Toronto he criticized Toronto’s city government for switching to a subway for Scarborough

In February I attended the “Gone Wild” fur fashion show in Fort Smith, which highlighted traditional clothing and trapping practices, along with modern fashion. It was a wonderful event, and the clothing was exceptionally beautiful, though I’m still hunting for a pair of moccasins.

Paul Wells writes in Maclean’s that there is a scenario where Canada and Quebec will be faced with a referendum if the Parti Quebecois wins the election called for April 7th

Newspapers reported that Olivia Chow (NDP – Trinity-Spadina, ON) will enter the race to become Toronto’s next mayor. Jon Lorinc has five questions he would like Ms. Chow to answer

From the St. Catharines Standard, the Manning Networking Conference, a conservative assembly, there were concerns about the Conservatives’ relationship with democracy

Something fun from The Atlantic Cities, a wonderful piece of graffiti mocking social media

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Differences without Distinction

Over the weekend I had a conversation with two of my friends about democracy and voting in Canada. They are university-educated, twenty-something women who do not consistently vote. Out of curiosity I asked why they didn’t vote. One said that they do not feel adequately informed. Politics is complicated and difficult to understand. According to her, the natural bias of the media makes it challenging to feel properly informed. There are no objective sources to learn about parties, candidates or platforms.

On the other hand another reason for not participating was that Canada is remarkably well governed. Does it really matter which party is in power or who is Prime Minister/Premier? I think so, but there’s a certain logic to this for most Canadians who do not notice how the government impacts their daily life.

This made me think about the lack of diversity in our parties. The Liberal Party convention in Montreal seems to have confirmed that the Liberals are aligned with the Conservatives on economic policy. In an interview Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) said that the Liberals would not be raising taxes, and tacitly endorsed the fiscal management of the Harper government. Aside from their stances on a few policies, such as marijuana legalization and right to assisted suicide the breadth of difference between the two leading parties is now quite small.

Much has been written about the NDP’s move to the right over the last few years to become another centre-left party. With that being the case, does choosing between any of the three parties make a substantial difference? Could Canadians be excused for thinking that it does not matter who in particular is governing the country?

Andrew Coyne gave a speech about this, in how a consensus about economics was coming together and that parties would have to redefine themselves along other issues. The Liberals already seem to be in the process of doing so with their more libertarian approach to social issues.

Obviously there are differences between the parties, but perhaps the “settling” of big questions on certain issues has taken some of the fire and passion out of our debates. Ultimately voters need to be offered clear choices, and perhaps that is happening less now.

One thing my friends and I agreed on is that, as Ontarians, our civic education did not adequately prepare them to participate in our democracy. Simple solutions were offered, like civics should be a full term, should concentrate more on local context (rather than international), and be taught in grade 12/more consistently through education. At least that may give young voters the tools to deal with the system and feel more able to participate within it.